A pioneering judge, who became the first Muslim woman in US history to serve on the bench, was found dead Wednesday — washed up on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River, sources said.
Sheila Abdus-Salaam AP
Sheila Abdus-Salaam, 65, was discovered floating in the water near 132nd Street and Hudson Parkway at around 1:45 p.m., according to police sources.
Witnesses had spotted her fully clothed body and called 911, cops said.
Sources told The Post that Abdus-Salaam, who is an associate judge of the Court of Appeals, had been reported missing from her home in Harlem earlier in the day.
Her husband later identified her body. Sources said it showed no obvious signs of trauma or injuries indicating criminality or foul play, and that her death appeared to be a suicide.
“Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was a trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all,” Gov. Cuomo wrote in a statement Wednesday night.
“She was a pioneer,” he said. “Through her writings, her wisdom, and her unshakable moral compass, she was a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come. I was proud to appoint her to the state’s highest court and am deeply saddened by her passing.”
In addition to being the country’s first Muslim female judge, Abdus-Salaam was the first ever African-American woman to be appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals.
After receiving her degree from Columbia Law School, she began her legal career working as a staff attorney at East Brooklyn Legal Services. Abdus-Salaam rose through the state ranks before eventually being elected to the Supreme Court in 1993.
She was then appointed to the Court of Appeals by Cuomo in 2013. Former US Attorney General Eric Holder, who went to Columbia with Abdus-Salaam, was in attendance for her historic swearing-in ceremony and described how she had “defined herself by her relentless pursuit of excellence” — while also managing to be a great dancer.
“Sheila could boogie,” Holder joked at the time. ‘She was a witty and a great deal of fun to spend time with.”
Abdus-Salaam went on to note how unlikely her and Holder’s professional achievements in law would have been four decades ago.
“Who knew that we would both attain such high positions, and that you would be the first black United States attorney general, and I would be the first black woman on the New York Court of Appeals?” she told him with a big smile.
As word of Abdus-Salaam’s death spread Wednesday, countless lawyers and judges began paying tribute to her.
“I’m deeply saddened at having lost a dear friend and colleague, and the court has suffered a terrible blow,” Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the state Court of Appeals from 2009 to 2015, told The Post.
“She was a superb jurist and an even more superb human being,” he said. “I knew her for many, many years. To some degree, we grew up together in the court. I’ve known her in all her different roles in the court. It’s just so shocking. She was a very genteel, lovely lady and judge. If you ask anyone about her, people would say only the most wonderful things. That’s why it makes it even more difficult to understand.”
Source: New York Post